U.S. President Donald Trump is visiting Japan right now, and as he is wont to do, took a moment to drum up some foolish statement about the auto industry, which he objectively does not understand. Speaking to a group of business leaders in Tokyo, Trump reportedly said: “Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over. That’s not too much to ask. Is that rude to ask?”
Where to begin.
Earlier this year, Trump withdrew from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, but he’s still annoyed by it. He reiterated as much in his meeting reports Bloomberg:
“For the last many decades, Japan has been winning. You do know that,” he said Monday. “Right now our trade with Japan is not fair and it isn’t open.”
But from there, according to the report, he dropped his knowledge about the Japanese auto industry—and by that, I mean there doesn’t appear to be much.
Let us be very clear that most of the Japanese automakers have huge manufacturing bases in America, and have for decades now. Toyota has manufacturing facilities in Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia and Texas. Honda has plants in Ohio, Indiana, Alabama and Georgia and now exports more U.S.-made cars than it imports. Subaru’s in Indiana, Nissan is in Tennessee and Alabama, and even tiny Mazda is planning to build a plant here soon—with Toyota.
If you think I’m mistaken, take a look at the fact sheet posted on Twitter by Reuters reporter David Shepardson:
I mean, damn. Four million cars? Nearly five million engines? About 850,000 employees, per Bloomberg. What’s he talking about?
Trump’s no stranger to bombast when it comes to foreign automakers. You might recall, earlier this year he reportedly called Germans “very bad” and vowed to stop German car sales in the U.S.
So the latest comments align with his past rhetoric. It’s no surprise, really. But, come on, where’d he get this intel? Even the fakest of fake news writers would struggle to concoct a narrative that can embellish reality enough to comport with what Trump said. I don’t know anymore.
Updated: Today Trump’s full remarks have been released and they are worth noting, even if they do not solve the issue at hand. Via The Washington Post:
When you want to build your auto plants, you will have your approvals almost immediately. When you want to expand your plants, you will have your approvals almost immediately. And in the room, we have a couple of the great folks from two of the biggest auto companies in the world that are building new plants and doing expansions of other plants. And you know who you are, and I want to just thank you very much. I want to thank you.
I also want to recognize the business leaders in the room whose confidence in the United States — they’ve been creating jobs — you have such confidence in the United States, and you’ve been creating jobs for our country for a long, long time. Several Japanese automobile industry firms have been really doing a job.And we love it when you build cars — if you’re a Japanese firm, we love it — try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over. Is that possible to ask? That’s not rude. Is that rude? I don’t think so. (Laughter.) If you could build them. But I must say, Toyota and Mazda — where are you? Are you here, anybody? Toyota? Mazda? I thought so. Oh, I thought that was you. That’s big stuff. Congratulations. Come on, let me shake your hand. (Applause.) They’re going to invest $1.6 billion in building a new manufacturing plant, which will create as many as 4,000 new jobs in the United States. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
So at best here Trump is asking these automakers to do something they have already done, are doing, and will do in the future. Which he seems to know, now? But saying “try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over” is still a bizarre statement. Also, it gives no sense that he understands the scale to which these automakers build cars here, which is massive.
And given more than a year of demonstrated ignorance about the auto industry—whether he’s talking about German cars, cars built in Mexico or Japanese cars—it’s near-impossible to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Thus in conclusion, the President of the United States seems to know (?) that “foreign” manufacturers do build cars here, although it’s unclear he knows how much, and it’s hard to discern any of this from his streams of word salad. Who can say!